Contemplative neuroscience has increasingly explored meditation using neuroimaging. However, the brain mechanisms underlying meditation remain elusive. Here, we implemented a mechanistic framework to explore the spatiotemporal dynamics of expert meditators during meditation and rest, and controls during rest. We first applied a model-free approach by defining a probabilistic metastable substate (PMS) space for each condition, consisting of different probabilities of occurrence from a repertoire of dynamic patterns. Moreover, we implemented a model-based approach by adjusting the PMS of each condition to a whole-brain model, which enabled us to explore in silico perturbations to transition from resting-state to meditation and vice versa. Consequently, we assessed the sensitivity of different brain areas regarding their perturbability and their mechanistic local-global effects. Overall, our work reveals distinct whole-brain dynamics in meditation compared to rest, and how transitions can be induced with localized artificial perturbations. It motivates future work regarding meditation as a practice in health and as a potential therapy for brain disorders.

Our work explores brain dynamics in a group of expert meditators and controls. First, we characterized meditation and rest with a repertoire of brain patterns, each with its distinct probability of occurrence. Then, we generated whole-brain models of each condition, which enabled us to artificially perturb the systems to induce transitions between rest and meditation. Our results open new avenues in meditation research as a practice in health and disease.

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Author notes

These authors share senior authorship.

Handling Editor: Daniele Marinazzo

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